Short history of the Jewish community of Greater Bangor



"Bangor's [German] group, which had come in the 1840s, consisted of small number of dry-goods merchants, peddlers and tailors. Immediately and ambitiously they tended to their Orthodox Jewish needs by establishing a synagogue, Ahawas Achim, ("Brotherly Love"), with approximately thirty members. …. The congregation received a charter from the city in 1859, established a burial groun on Webster Avenue as a permanent legacy to the Jewish community, employed for a shohet for the proper ritural slaughter of animals, planned for a school with instruction in German, English and Hebrew, discussed building a mikveh (ritual bath) and prepared for the time when they might need to disband. That moment came in the late 1850's, when Bangor's economy soured. The Jewish community dispersed, and its few sacred ritual objects, including a Sepher Torah, were sent to Boston for safekeeping.

When Bangor again proposed in the 1860's and 1870's another set of German Jewish immigrants came to the city. Although they came as peddlers, they soon started building careers that would place in eminent positions. William Engel, the only Jewish immigrant to go into the timber business, became a lumber baron and major of the city. Louis Kirstein went into insurance and real estate, and developed two new residential areas of the city, Little City and Fairmount. Waterman opened one of Bangor's most successful men and boy's clothing shops and became an officer of the Board of Trade.. ..

They did revive Ahawas Achim in 1874 by bringing back the ritual objects from Boston and adding to the original synagogue minutes. … Each year the small group, numbering no more than ten people from Bangor, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, hired a hall for celebrating the New Year and the Day of Atonement….

Thus the first group of German Jews, who arrived in the 1840's, disappeared by leaving the city during the economic reversals of the late 1850's. The second group, coming in the 1860's and 1870's, disappears as Jews while staying in the city. This they did by means of intermarriage, conversion, or by not marrying at all…

Bangor' Russian Jews established themselves near the tail end of the glory days ot timber and shipping, taking their lowly place at the bottom end of the city's trade in junk, trickets, clothing, and dry goods. …Bangor's eastern European Jews, who started to arrive in the city in the early 1880's, cam primarily from the Lithuanian vicinties of Vilna (Vilnius), Kovno (Kaunas), and Minsk and Grodno in Russia..

With few skills and no capital, the Russian Jews peddled among Gentiles in the city or at country farms, or exchanged whatever they could carry : trickets, needles, lotion, matches, clothing, threads, pots and pans, leftover fabric, buttons or topics from sardine cans… Five days a week and every week of the year, except for Jewish holidays, the peddlers went out from Bangor in Maine's harsh winter days and the warmer months of late spring, summer and early fall. … The farm wives looked out onto the quiet roads with mixed feeling of anticipation and dread : they welcomed the peddler carrying needed goods but they feared the odd-looking, under-nourished, foreign-speaking stranger" - Judith S Goldstein Crossing Lines : Histories of Jews and Gentiles in Three Communities , 1992, NY, chapter two.

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page updated : August 5, 2015

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